Ode to the Liver (A Liverpool poem from 1811)

Recently I discovered an old poem about Liverpool in a newspaper from 1811. Imagine that is over 200 years ago. The poem is very interesting and is about our beloved Liver bird.


So, it goes, and the following are verses culled from the “Ode”: -:

“O, Bird of Freedom, that of yore
Built thy lone nest on Mersey’s shore,
Fond of his stoney bed, –
Till there the steps of man were heard,
And sails upon thy stream appear’d, –
Thy pinions then, outspread,
Bore thee upon the winds sublime,
To seek, o’er distant waves, some solitary clime.

‘Twas thine, what time the morning beam
Sparkled across thy native stream,
To skim the refluent wave;
When evening rose, with storms o’ercast,
Thy plumage ruffling in the blast,
‘Twas thine the storn to brave;
Fearful of nought but man’s vile race,
Shrieking, thou heardst his voice, and fled thy native place.

Yet, but the fisher’s matted sail,
Scarce bending with the labouring gale,
Caught then thy started sight;
His aspect wild, and rude his hand, –
His turf-hut reared upon the strand,
A shelter for the night,
Hadst thou remained with him awhile,
His rude, yet strenuous hand, had taught these banks to smile.

Not yet the castle’s feudal pride,
Raised, threat’ning o’er the Mersey’s tide,
Its high enbattl’d tower,
While, unenslaved, the fisher-swain,
Swept with wide net the wealthy main,
Nor knew despotic power:
Nor were his toils with love unblest,
Love strew’d his sea-weed couch, and claspt his sea-worn breast.

O, Liver-bird, hadst thou remain’d,
Ne’er had that humble swain complain’d,
Of slavery’s direful woes:
But thou wert flown, – when on the shore,
Its deep foundations stain’d with gore,
The Poictier-turret rose,
Then blasts of trumpets, clash of spears,
And victor-shouts were heard, and wails of widows’ tears.

‘Twas then, the second Henry’s band,
Thicken’d, O’Mersey, o’er thy strand,
Fraught with Ierne’s doom:
How many born but to obey! –
Manhood’s full prime, with veterans grey,
And youth in earliest bloom; –
How much of life is given to death,
To swell a conqueror’s fame with sad, expiring breath!

O Liver-bird, hadst thou not flown,
That victor voice had not been known,
Triumphant on thy flood;
Nor after-ages e’er had seen,
That fierce besieger’s vengful mien,
Who swell’d thy stream with blood!
When Rupert’s cpurser crush’d the slain,
And feeble age implored, and mothers shriek’d in vain.

‘Twas ere that direful day, a star
Shone o’er the western waves afar,
With hesitating light:
New mountains then their summits rear’d,
A world, a new born world appear’d,
Slow rising on the sight!
In those vast regions of the west,
Hadst thou, O Liver, built they close-secluded nest?

Ah, no! – not thee, Tlascals knew,
Not the soft children of Peru,
Not Hayti’s listless race, –
Nor yet Bahama’s flowery isles,
Nor northern Indians who, with wiles,
Delight their foe to trace; –
These knew thee not, or thou hadst fled,
Soon as his sanguine sails the greedy bigot spread.

Yet when the gentler arts wore seen,
And Commerce rose, the Ocean’s queen,
And sought thy Mersey’s shore;
Hadst thou revisted this strand,
Peace, who sustains just Commerce’s hand,
Had blest the Merchants’ store: –
Now drops that hand, – and Commerce pale,
Laments her wasting wealth, and unextended sail!

Return, O Liver! – Freedom’s bird!
Shall aught to Freedom be preferr’d
On this thy native flood?
Return! – the groans of trade-borne slaves
Have ceased along the tropic waves –
Ceas’d bath the gain of blood!
And war, at thy return, shall cease,
And man again rejoice in Freedom and in Peace.”


In the newspaper it followed a text that said: –
Writers on the etymology of the word Liverpool are accustomed to reject the tradition of the existence of a species of bird denominated the Liver as entirely fabulous. For this there is certainly no sufficient reason. Livia was undoubtedly the Latin denoination of a wild bird, whether a wood-pigeon or a water fowl is extremely doubtful, from the short description of it in Pliny.

It was exactly the same as the pelicas of the Greeks, and in both languages it probably derived its name from its swarthy or livid colour. The similarity of its Greek denomination to that of the pelican induces me to believe that Pliny uses the word columba in its most extensve sense; from the nature of Greek appellatives it may be concluded that the pelias was as large or larger than the pelican.

It is worthy of remark that Liviopolis, the coast of which abounded with the bird Livia, and which name is generally derived from the Empress Livia, bears great similarity to the word Liverpool. From the constant interchange of the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ in the Greek and Latin languages. I have ventured to suppose the root of the word Liver to have been the same as that of Liber, free; and I have therefore, styled the Liver the Bird of Freedom.”

The poem was signed “N” when it appeared on print.

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